Like all major cities, Pittsburgh has a rich cultural and architectural heritage. Since its incorporation in 1771, the city has evolved from an outpost, designed to manage the western frontier, to a major producer of armaments during the Civil War. It became an industrial powerhouse by the early 20th century. During each phase of its evolution, the city’s buildings followed the trends of the time. A tour through Pittsburgh is notable for the number of nationally registered historical buildings; there are over 160 of them.
Here are five architectural styles to look for in the city.
Pittsburgh has many striking examples of Beaux Arts architecture, characterized by conservative, modern-looking lines, bold sculptural decorations, and deep cornices and swags. Book a room near Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University to see the Main Building of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, now known as Hamburg Hall, for an excellent example of Beaux Arts architecture. The building displays the classic flat roof, arched windows and pedimented doors that typifies this architectural style. Another fine example is the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in the central business district.
Pittsburgh has one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the country. The Cathedral of Learning, the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh, is the second-tallest educational building in the world, and the largest in the Western hemisphere. Construction on the 42-story cathedral completed in 1934. Look for the classic details that define Gothic Revival style popular with religious and scholarly buildings: tall pinnacles or spires, pointed arches, and an emphasis on vertical lines.
The Frick Building is one of the most distinctive landmarks in downtown Pittsburgh. Henry Clay Frick, after feuding with Andrew Carnegie, commissioned the 20-story building to be taller than Carnegie’s, and the biggest in the city. The Frick Building underwent completion in 1902 and features the strict symmetry and tall columns that characterize the Neoclassical style. You may recognize the Frick Building from the movie “Jack Reacher,” filmed in downtown Pittsburgh.
One of the most impressive examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in the country locates itself in Pittsburgh. The Allegheny Courthouse and Jail, designed by H.H. Richardson, features a bridge connecting the courthouse and jail based on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The building featured in major films such as “Striking Distance,” “Desperate Measures,” and “Boys on the Side.” The courthouse displays many of the classical characteristics of Romanesque Revival architecture: rounded arches, cavernous entryways, and rounded towers.
The massive six-building complex known as PPG Place, named for its largest tenant, completed in 1984, and contains 19,750 identical pieces of glass. Easily recognized by the 40-story reflective tower and 231 glass spires, it’s considered the crown jewel of Pittsburgh’s skyline. True to the Post Modern architecture movement, PPG Place features elements of whimsy, excess, and emphasis on exaggerated lines and aesthetics.
If you love architecture and design, you’ll love exploring the grand buildings of Pittsburgh.What are your favorite architectural landmarks in the city? Share them in the comments below!